The joy that greeted the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in March after his three-month kidnapping ordeal at the hands of Palestinian extremists provided the high point in an otherwise bleak year for journalism as the crisis of violence against media has intensified.
For the third year in succession, the IFJ reports an extremely high number of deaths of journalists and people who work with them. Many killings were targeted attacks, some were crossfire casualties in war zones, and others were deaths in accidents, which are listed separately in this report.
The total of 172 is again dominated by the body count of Iraqi journalists in a war that has now accounted for more than 250 media killings according to the IFJs affiliate the Iraqi Syndicate of Journalists.
During 2007 some 65 died giving fresh urgency to efforts to put in place the Iraqi Media Safety Group, a local self-help operation supported by the IFJ and the International News Safety Institute. This group is now co-ordinating help to media to strengthen safety awareness and reduce the risks facing local journalists.
In Palestine, where the political divisions between Palestinians on the West Bank and those in Gaza have also affected the journalism community, the kidnapping of Johnston galvanized divided local journalists who led a vocal and unified campaign for his release. One of t he first messages a relieved and tired Johnston gave on achieving his freedom was to recognise this effort, which may well have saved his life.
In Africa 14 killings were recorded, some eight of them in Somalia alone, a country where the tragedy of tribalism and lawlessness has caused chaos and where media are victimised when they try to report honestly on the tragic conditions within the country.
The launch of the African Federation of Journalists in Nigeria in November provides a vehicle for new efforts to challenge the killers and the corruption that weakens media and journalism across the continent.
Working with INSI out of Dakar in Senegal, the IFJ plans to expand safety training and support work for media including the launch of an Africa Solidarity Fund, part of which will be directed towards helping the victims of violence and their families.
In the Americas 19 deaths were recorded, with Mexico continuing to dominate the list with six killings. Many of them journalists singled out because of their reporting on gangsters operating in the country. In one horrifying case in October three workers were killed at El Imparcial del Istmo which had been receiving death threats over its reporting of drugs gangs.
In Asia there were 31 killings with. Political turbulence in Pakistan also accounted for new pressure on journalists during the year and eight deaths. Sri Lanka (6) and the Philippines (5) also counted high numbers of victims.
Asia also provided a grim example of how the fate of kidnapped journalists and media staff often depends entirely on the support the victims can call upon. In March Daniele Mastrogiacomo of the Italian daily La Repubblica was kidnapped by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan along with his fellow journalist and translator Ajmal Naqshbandi and driver 25-year-old Sayed Agha a father of four.
The Taliban immediately assessed the worth of their catch. Sayed Agha had his throat cut on the spot, a gruesome event witnessed by his two colleagues, with the kidnappers estimating there was no political or financial advantage in keeping him alive. Mastrogiacomo was later released thanks to a concerted drive by the Italian government pressed into action by the IFJ Italian affiliate the FNSI and with the support of the regime in Kabul. After negotiations, in which undisclosed money changed hands he was set free. Ajmal Naqshbandi was less lucky. He was killed after the Afghan government refused to negotiate further.
This tragic event highlighted once again the perilous situation facing local media staff in a conflict zone they are among the most numerous of victims and the least protected.
This report also contains a detailed report on the work of the IFJ International Safety Fund, which is used to provide humanitarian support to the victims of violence and their families. During 2007 the IFJ Safety Fund has allocated around 5,000 euro in monthly payments to families who lost breadwinners in some of the worlds most troubled spots such as Colombia, and Sri Lanka and made substantial donations to journalists families in Somalia, Iraq and Palestine as well as a number of other individual contributions. At the years end there were more hopeful signs. Alan Johnston, making good on his promise to the IFJ to lend a hand in the campaign for news safety, issued a passionate call for media organisations to work together to build a culture of safety in his address to the New York launch of the International News Safety Institute in December.